Accessibility top of mind for St. Mary’s staff, council

·2 min read

ST. MARY’S – With measures ranging from a new tool to help people navigate its website to a call out for volunteers to serve on a special advisory committee, the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s is doubling down on its commitment to accessibility.

The initiatives are part of a wide-ranging program that includes a formal plan, which is expected to be presented to district council next month. According to Municipal Clerk Mallory Fraser, St. Mary’s “is committed to equitable access to community life and participation in society for people of all abilities [and] will actively work to eliminate and prevent barriers to ensure environments are welcoming, inclusive, and accepting places for all people.”

That work began in 2021 with the launch of the municipal accessibility advisory committee (one councillor and two residents). Said Fraser: “Each year, members of the public have the opportunity to apply to become a member. The applications are reviewed by council, and members are appointed annually at the [spring] annual general meeting.”

Earlier this month, staff issued a public call-out for new volunteers by Saturday, March 25. “There is no maximum or minimum number of members,” Fraser said. “But the policy does stipulate that at least one-half of the members must be persons with disabilities or representatives from organizations representing persons with disabilities as per the Accessibility Act.”

The committee has worked to complete the new municipal accessibility plan — a process that included public consultations throughout St. Mary’s and reviewing workplace practices and municipal services. “In-person sessions were held, and a survey was available online and paper copies were available,” Fraser said. “The sessions and the survey were advertised in the municipal newsletter, website and Facebook page”

She added: “Once the plan is complete [and approved by council], staff will work to implement the recommendations, and the accessibility advisory committee will continue to provide advice and make recommendations about strategies designed to achieve objectives.”

Meanwhile, staff has also been working on ways to improve the accessibility of the municipal website. A new tool, introduced on March 14, lets users change the contrast, font, letter spacing and a host of other features.

Said Fraser: “Implementing the tool was a very simple process and took very little time. It was felt that this tool could benefit website users immediately. As 30 per cent of Nova Scotians 15 years or older have at least one disability, there is a need for these types of tools to increase access to information.”

Disability, she said, includes a physical, mental, intellectual, learning or sensory impairment, “including an episodic disability that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders an individual’s full and effective participation in society.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal